I was accepted as a subject in a medical research program studying Alzheimer’s at a local college (I Am a Research Pawn). My participation involved two hour-long lab sessions.
The research lab was located in a far corner of a classroom building at the edge of campus, the path from the parking lot clearly marked with ‘brain research’ signs. Exactly one minute early for my first session, I was quickly ushered into a two-room ‘brain lab’. Two young people, one recently graduated and the second with one semester of undergraduate work remaining, carefully explained the test procedure, then proceeded to conduct their experiment.
I was seated in front of a computer screen. A large headpiece of knotted beads was carefully placed over my head and part of my face. A picture of over 100 numbered beads in two different colors appeared onscreen. The researchers wet some pieces, activating the beads initially reading no brain activity. Once all the beads were a homogenous color indicating my brain was working (whew!), the first test began.
I sat immobile for three minutes with my eyes closed. My biggest concern was that I would fall asleep. The room was totally silent and, although morning, I can always fall asleep under the right circumstances.
Three minutes later the researcher directed me to open my eyes. Now I stared at the computer screen another three minutes, again motionless, attempting to clear my brain of all distracting thoughts.
Before I knew it the test was over and the headpiece removed. A multi-page questionnaire placed in front of me asked about my behaviors, such as –
· Organization – on a scale of one to five, how organized are my drawers (kitchen or dresser –not specified, yet definitely makes a difference) and bathroom? My standards and Martha Stewart’s (another senior who could most likely qualify for this research project) are, I am sure, poles apart. What does my disorganized ways mean?
· Forgetfulness – how often are names, dates, and appointments forgotten?
· Exercise – how often and how long do I exercise? (Never was one choice.)
· Directions – We all know men never ask. At any age. And with a GPS who needs to know or ask anymore?
The hour concluded with an appointment scheduled for the second session.
And so I found myself on the college campus again, ready for another brain scan.
Except this time I was face to face with a professor testing my mental acuity (extra points for using impressive words!). For example…
· The prof read a list of unrelated words and I repeated as many as I could in any order.
· A list of numbers was supposed to be repeated in the same order as recited. I am really, really bad with numbers. Particularly remembering numbers. Especially my weight, but luckily that was not part of the test.
· Remember the Sesame Street game – which one of these doesn’t belong? I was supposed to choose the puzzle piece that did belong; the next one in a sequential series.
And I had to draw. I have never been able to draw. I am artistically challenged.
Hopefully my artistic endeavors will not too negatively affect my test results.
Mind games are supposedly exercises for the brain. So I got a lot of exercise.
The prof could not tell me my test results, but assured me I did very well. What a relief. Really, that seriously is good to know.
The research program may involve follow-ups in the future.
Perhaps I should practice sequential puzzles.
Or work on my vocabulary.
Forget about attempting to improve my drawing skills; that will never happen.
Maybe next time I can sit in front of the computer screen, silent and completely still, for a longer period of time.
I bet I aced that part of the exam.